It’s a New Year!!!! Today I played a game of scrabble with Kade and scored 585 points with three 7 letter plays, (probably my highest score ever) but the one thing I’ll remember was a 6 point play that stunted me (couldn’t make it 7) with the word “content”. It made me think about words and dual meanings as well as our American struggle with “content” and being content. I love word plays. Ironically, I have been considering a word play that Jesus used since church last night.
Being content is a tough proposition as an American Christian. At Mount Zion this weekend Pastor Dave preached on the rich young ruler and it’s interesting when Jesus quotes the commandments in Mark 10, he seems to sort of misquote them… he says “Do not defraud”, rather than “don’t covet”; scholars have been baffled on this for a long time, but my take on it is that Jesus goes on to shrewdly confront the rich young ruler on the covetousness of his heart as what makes him “fraudulent” as a follower of Christ. Consider the implications to the church today as we are supposed to be bearing His image but are considered fraudulent by Christ if we aren’t content in Him… (It also could regard Him as “God”, but that’s another subject.) In my opinion it’s a very intelligent play on words in Greek and still challenges our carnal hearts 2000 years later.
There’s a lot in the Bible that points to contentment (within the heart of discipleship) as being the main goal in Christ in terms of a communal kingdom perspective.
The sages would pray daily, “Lord, make my heart so malleable that I am ready and willing to accept whatever You provide for me.”
Consider Hebrews 13:5 Let your way of life be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,”
We need to learn contentment as a Christian virtue as the body of Christ regardless of what the world says. The Greek word used in Hebrews 13 for content is arkeo and means to be completely satisfied with the provision of God; in context this is directly at odds with the world.
￼In Hebraic thought life was about balance and each person affected the balance of the whole community. May I be restless to do His will – and to rest in Him. May I contribute to the balance of the kingdom. This is the sacred balance: that His purpose becomes my driving force and His character becomes my contentment. The entire message of Scripture can be read in these words: May I find rest in You, O Lord.
I would encourage you, as you make your New Year’s resolutions today that your sentiment might be that you find rest in the lord and in Him, you might be content as an intricate ingredient of the kingdom and the body of Christ.
Last Year I wrote the first book of a trilogy series called “this is the way” and chapter one starts out challenging the reader with why we as Christians continue to accept and go along with things related to Christ that we know aren’t true or might be misleading. I love Christmas because it points everyone towards Jesus, but I also get tired of the worldliness that is placed on “their” version of the celebration and how far it has strayed from the story of the Messiah’s coming that was presented to us in scripture. I have written a lot on this and have a few videos (posted below), but here is some details of things I have alluded to surrounding the birth of Christ that you might enjoy, and I pray that it also deepens your appetite for intimacy with the Word.
Most devout Christians know the traditional story of Jesus born in a manger has issues. Every year when my church puts a manger out front with three wise men who likely weren’t three and didn’t show up until two years later, I have to question what we are doing as Christians who proclaim the “good news.” Doesn’t Good news imply truth? As I have mentioned before, Jesus likely wasn’t born in a mangy barn but rather the first floor “kitchen-garage” of relative’s home and today I will expound on that.
As with most New Testament stories we first have to start with the Old Testament to get the context right. In Gen 29:9 we learn that Rachel was a shepherdess, and the burial-place of Rachel is called the Tower of the Flock (Migdal Eder in Hebrew). Rachel died there while giving birth to a son, whom she named “Ben-Oni” which means “son of sorrow”, which may have foreshadowed the life that Mary would come to know as she would watch her blessed Son be crucified before her eyes. (I think we all understand the man of Sorrow personification.) In Genesis 35, after Rachel died, Jacob changed the boy’s name to Benjamin, which means “son of the right hand”; both of which names would be very significant foreshadows of Christ. Though we have earthly sin and sorrow, we have a Father that changes our name and claims us as His own. (There is a lot more to the changing of names spiritually but that is another post!)
Micah 4:8 and Gen 35:21 reference the same place – the Tower of Eder also called the Tower of the Flock. Micah is the most interesting, as he mentions the Kingdom and Dominion comes to the Tower of the Flock. 6 verses down, Micah again references the same shepherd who will arise from Bethlehem and feed his flock, to whom all of Israel will return. (I love the “feed” inuendo identifying what Jesus does for us with symbolic reference to the communion within His body.)
It is interesting when we read the prophets, we get the idea that they saw some things that they didn’t have words for. I don’t think they fully comprehended the coming of a Messiah, especially not in the form He came in; but they certainly had some understanding of an Exodus motif deliverance that the remnant of Israel was praying for and spent a lot of time and passion studying and waiting for, likely thanks to the influence of Daniel.
In Ancient Near East culture (ANE – this is what my Doctoral Degree is in), there are 3 lambing or shepherding seasons; early lambs born in November-January, Spring Lambs born in February-March and Summer lambs born in June. The Spring Season is the time of the Passover Sacrifice which required a 1-year old Lamb. Personally, I lean towards Jesus to have been born in this season (likely March 25 according to scholars) as the Lamb of God, as a foreshadowing of His ministry of becoming the Passover Lamb. Most people know the significance of shepherds in the Old Testament and the foreshadow of the royal priestly heritage that is given to us as New Testament shepherds of the New Covenant in Christ. According to the Mishnah (Bekhorot 5:4) shepherds and priests share the same family, we can also gather this from the Old Testament. Where this ties in, is that if the Luke 2:8 shepherds keeping watch were priests this also might explain how they knew where to go. I bet you think they just followed the star (but wasn’t that just the wise men? See how tradition twists this?) I believe the priestly shepherds knew EXACTLY where to go. The wise men from the East weren’t the only ones studying.
The most problematic point of this theory is that Migdal Eder or the “Tower of the Flock” is located outside of Bethlehem not “IN” the city of David as most people understand Matthew 2 to read. But that is a very Western way of reading, a more Eastern or Hebraic understanding of the text will help us. Note that Matthew 2 reads, “in Bethlehem of Judea.” the Greek word ἐν (en) has a broad range especially in the way that it is written when coupled with “of Judea.” In Greek because “of Judea” is added there is a good argument that it is Bethlehem proper rather than specific. In my opinion this is within the hermeneutics of the Greek preposition en which in its nearly 3000 biblical occurrences often takes on a much broader meaning such as on, at, by, or with making the Bethlehem proper usage perfectly acceptable according to any interlinear.
In taking everything in, this study leads to the conclusion, that the flocks, which pastured near Migdal Eder, were destined for Temple-sacrifices, and, accordingly, the shepherds, who watched over them, were not ordinary shepherds, but priests. The Greek word which is translated in our English Bibles “manger” is Yatnh phat-ne. The definition of the word is of a “stall” where animals are kept and in Luke 13:15 is translated as such. In the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) the word means a stall or a crib (See Proverbs 14:4). It is also worth noting that because shepherding was seasonal, the shepherd’s family housing would have been similar to the temporary dwelling or coming and going place we often refer to in English as an INN. This functioned not only as a home to the shepherds but likely a place of study for the priests. Sure, there were nicer places in Bethlehem, but this is where the “lowlier” of the caste would have been staying for Passover festivities.
You may not know that both Mary and Joseph were descendants of King David, though they were not considered among the aristocrats of Israel. Mary was related to Elizabeth, the wife of the priest, Zacharias, and thus in the Priestly line of Jesus. As most family land often remained in the family for generations there is a good chance that Mary and Joseph knew the location “in Bethlehem” well that had been in their line of priestly shepherds and the guest room was full in the Passover season but gave way to the “ordinary” kitchen or preparation area for the feast, where the livestock also remained. (This functions as a mosaic picture of the lowly of lowly servants’ quarters as a picture of Christs complete humility.) This also does away with the images of an irresponsible Joseph whose wife is about to birth the Messiah (as he knows) running around knocking door to door; it makes much more strategic Biblical sense.
Does it matter? Maybe not, sort of, yea?! Jesus’ birth at Migdal Eder places Jesus in the traditional location for Passover lambs to be born & explains how the shepherds knew where to go to find and certify “THE Passover lamb” upon birth. It also helps us to understand and explain a better more historically accurate version of Christ’s birth. But it also presents a better truth of the birth of Jesus that leads to a consistency of trust with the gospel message and building on the journey to discipleship.
Merry Christmas, may the Lord Bless you and keep you.
I am blessed to have a family group that spends most of our life together, it basically is a non-stop Jesus party. We tend to always have “borrowed” kids over for the weekend and this morning (Sunday, December 18, 2022) wasn’t much different than most other weekends except we strategically had planned not to attend church Sunday for various reasons, one of which was to stay home and watch the Argentina – France World Cup final match that started at 9:00am. Now before you raise an eyebrow, please hear me out on this!
Normally I wouldn’t do this. Well, not really anyway. My boys are way into soccer and have been playing club just about from the time they could walk. I usually would tell you that club sports are one of the Satan’s best tools for removing families from Sunday morning fellowship. My friend Dr. Steve Cassell would say (in his best “waterboy” accent), that “club sports are the Devil”. So, throughout our club soccer days we have made it known to the club, coaches, and team that there are times, particularly Sunday when we just won’t be there, and the boys in some cases have been penalized for the decisions which is fine (I wouldn’t say that they have been persecuted for it either though). Some may argue we are breaking a commitment to club sports, but we firmly believe that our commitment to God always trumps everything else. We aren’t legalistic about club attendance or church attendance.
Which brings me to the main thrust of this article. Our family tries to not separate things sacred from other things in life, everything should be sacred before the Lord and thus we should worship Him 24/7 as much as we are able, that should be the goal. As homeschoolers, my wife and I have worked hard to make all of life an enjoyable learning experience that is continually honoring to the Lord. That said, we have decided to “skip” church quite a few times and these have become some of our favorite moments together with family and friends. I am sure that sounds strange but my wife and I and many others in our group have made a commitment to be our children’s primary educators in all aspects of life. I can think of several of these home church days that my kids will remember forever; and sadly, I can’t say that I can think of any traditional church services I feel that way about (perhaps the baptism services of my children.) We have many partners in this educational process and prefer them to be in the Jesus kingdom, we would love to start a Christian soccer club; but often it is also important to model Jesus to those outside of this community. Every now and then, (especially when we have friends over in a situation like this – that might be surprised we are skipping church) we are intentional to have something “churchish” in its place. Today, and most Sundays we call this “home church, but in our family, we also have experiences similar to this throughout the week at various times as well.” There is importance in Sunday morning church attendance, I won’t deny that; but there is also importance in families conducting their own “church” services with their friends and families, and I don’t think most evangelical American Christians do this enough. I would venture to say that these services likely will have more overall spiritual impact on my family and yours than most other conventional church services will, especially if you choose to really invest in them. And I would argue that this intimate description of teaching, testimony, and praise is far closer to the biblical intention of the body of believers meeting as the body of believers from the beginning of the pages of the scripture than what we have turned church into today. Today we have made it an entertainment party for everyone to attend. In bible times it was intended to be a meeting “for those that believe.” unbelievers weren’t invited to the assembly of the believers. That wouldn’t have made any sense. In a sacred world that was actually defilement towards those that were set apart. That is just one small example, but there are many more such as the size. Most of the Bible implies a meeting group smaller than 72, perhaps there was a good reason for this. Church has evolved far from what the scriptures modeled for us.
I knew the day was going to be unforgettable, so I wanted to take the opportunity to teach a special lesson. Matt and I have been doing a huge video series on our YouTube channel on the church and I wanted to share some of what we have been covering with my family.
When God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden, we get the idea that the “halak” journey was based on intimate fellowship. Covenant story after story, and then with Israel the continued message that we get is that God wants a sacred relationship that is unending covenant relationship with us (signified by a ring in marriage.)
Our life and church should have the trajectory of complete sacred living (set apart in holiness). The scriptures say that David had a heart after God’s heart, he wanted to be intimate with the Lord 24/7 and sought for Israel to also be.
David’s goal was that all of Israel was to be sacred and set apart to be Holy before the lord. His kingdom was based on 24/7 fellowship in God’s presence which was, at that time, seen through the ark of the Covenant in Israel. In 2 Samuel 6-7 and I Chronicles 15-16 we read that one of the first things David did as King was to place the ark in a tent of worship and commanded Asaph to worship the Lord Day and night (I Chronicles 16:37.) David enabled 288 musicians in 24 teams, each with an elder of 12 family members in continual prayer and worship. All of Israel including the government would be sacred with worship as the center piece through David’s entire rule (I Chronicles 25:6-7). By the end of David’s rule, the number of musicians had grown to over 4000 (I Chronicles 23:5) that continued to minister night and day in the center of life by the ark, but also grew to other places throughout the nation with the idea that every family would follow the model and live as a unified set apart holy nation before the Lord. God gave David a vision for his earthly kingdom to be linked to the throne room of God and begin functioning “on earth as it is in heaven.”
I hope you are picking up on the correlation without me spelling it out.
Today was incredibly memorable for our family. The last time we had a world cup my youngest doesn’t remember it, He was 7. My oldest was 12 and it simply was not an epic experience for him, he likely just thought it was strange dad was watching tv and specific sports (My wife and I often consider spending precious minutes or hours watching TV a complete waste of time and very much limit digital viewing in our house.) The next time we will have a world cup my oldest will be 20 and likely playing soccer in a college hopefully with all of his “covenant” friends. In other words, this will be our family’s primary world cup experience together in our lifetime. What would my family remember? Maybe they will remember the game, but my goal was that they would remember this as one of our epic “home church” and family experiences. They will remember growing up that home church was the best! And hopefully when they have kids, they won’t think twice about leading their families as the primary worship leaders of the scriptures and Jesus kingdom in their families. What happened that morning was likely the best soccer match in history. My kids will remember this day forever. But they won’t simply remember Lionel Messi, or the double hat trick by him or Mbappe, or the shootout; they will also, and I pray more importantly, remember those things that our family was dedicated to the Lord in all we do.
Today our family dynamic grew incredibly close. We put God first, and emphasized what Jesus continually taught; love, compassion, family, communion, and discipleship.
That is also our prayer for all those that we interact with, that we might create a discipleship Jesus culture to all that we come in contact with where King Jesus is worshipped 24/7 and we as a family lead the way to a better way of church as those set apart to do his will bringing Heaven to earth.
My life Mantra is the calling to teach a better community of devotion to Jesus and reinvent discipleship. Most readers know my take on discipleship. There were/are fans of Jesus, most “Christians” were and continue to be followers of Jesus, but He desired most that we be His disciples. Christ’s definition of discipleship was to leave everything on the beach and completely follow Him, to not return to the ways of the world (as other Rabbinical disciples did in the latter part of the week.) We don’t do that much today specifically in American and more precisely as the evangelical westernized church (body of believers.)
Disciples were persecuted and in Jesus’ time almost all became Martyrs.
The preeminent calling of all of the Bible is to follow Jesus completely and become one of his disciples in a discipleship community. I’m not sure the average Christian knows of a community that fits this definition of a disciple, or perhaps even a single person. Nicodemus is a great example of what American Christianity has become. Nicodemus was likely the primary financial supporter of Jesus’ ministry and when he asks Jesus what is the next step, Jesus gives Him his definition of discipleship which leaves Nicodemus saying He isn’t willing to do that. Nicodemus is a mosaic of westernized churchianity. What Jesus desired more than Nicodemus’ money was his all-in commitment. Too often I hear American Christians talking about Jesus “just” wanting their heart. As that does hold truth, Jesus was very clear that what he desired was the heart but also the literal physical action of becoming nothing for Him. Its great if you have Jesus training wheels on and your giving big to the great American church (in His name) but Jesus is pretty clear that He would rather have all of you, and all meant everything by His definition of discipleship, and it has very little to do with an offering plate at your mega (likely any number over 72) church.
In traditional OT Hebraic thought, by the time you were an elder you esteemed to give away everything, this was a sign that you were ready to become one with the Father. Jesus sets the record straight by proclaiming that His disciples shouldn’t wait until they are elders (older wiser people) to do this. As young disciples you-we should leave it all on the beach. In other words, Jesus doesn’t even want your “treasures” of the world. Most of the money we are trying to give God or the church is not sacred but rather defiled in an OT sense of purity and sacrifice. Tainted sacrifices aren’t accepted (even if you had a better heart posture.) As an example, if you worked 70 hours that week to make that money but it took you and your family farther from God and sacred living, it represented something that had been defiled not sacred. God only desires what is Holy. In terms of OT purity sin wasn’t given to God it was figuratively (KPR -EXPIATION) carried out of the camp by the scapegoat. We wonder what is wrong with our churches – well, essentially, we are funding them with defiled money and God doesn’t honor that.
Today Christians in America say they are being persecuted. Perhaps I am old fashion, but I don’t think so. And the reason I don’t think so is because Satan (or the powers and principalities of the world) are pretty content with a bunch of lukewarm fans with one foot in the world and one in the kingdom of Jesus. If we still had disciples, we would still have persecution. Some fans and followers occasionally do disciple-type things and may experience a “glimmer” of tribulation or persecution, but likely have no idea what Paul really meant by persecution in 2 Timothy.
To me it appears that the Great American Evangelical church has mostly or likely completely missed the calling of the heart of Jesus for discipleship. Americans essentially fit the description of Nicodemus, the rich man that wasn’t willing to give up what he had to be a disciple and walked away. Perhaps Jesus still had a place for Him in the kingdom, but we aren’t told that. I doubt Nicodemus faced any persecution after his conversation with Jesus.
Let me ask you a question. Does the Bible teach that Jesus would’ve rather had thousands of lukewarm fans or a few disciples? I think you know the answer clearly.
One will be persecuted, and one will be left alone. Which will you be?
We often mix biblical words, so let’s establish some defintions:
-Trials- peirasmos often has a positive connotation associated with an athletic event -you’re going to be worked, but it’s essentially building muscle. Sometimes used in a sense of resisting temptation.
-Tribulation- thlipsis various hardship that may or may not be of spiritual nature (but can end in Joy)
-Persecution – diógmos (dioko below) when someone or something is vehemently pursuing you to harm you
Trials and tribulations often lead to Joy… but persecution it’s a little bit different… it’s Biblical affliction. Let’s consider Paul to Timothy
…and indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 2 Timothy 3:12
Typically, in our western minds the term persecution takes on the thought or image of Saul hunting Christians. The best definition is a malicious intent to cause harm… it’s a little bit different than trials and tribulations, but all of them can take on a contronym form meaning. (A contronym means something that carries the same thought or word but can be an extreme positively or negatively. An example of this is the Hebrew word Barak that can mean to bless or to curse.) Something that is negative, when given to God can turn into something positive which the scripture defines as joy.
In Greek, the verb in this verse for persecution is dioko. It’s about pursuit. It is actually a word play… it means that we are followers of Christ but will be pursued aggressively by Jesus and then others will also pursue us aggressively in tribulation. But the contronym form means that the same verb also means to press hard after good things. As we pursue Him, we will be persecuted by others. In Greek, it’s really written well…
Paul is the main person we think about in terms of persecution towards Christians. I always find it interesting that he was the main source of persecution of Christians at one time, and then probably becomes the most persecuted Christian of all times eventually to martyrdom. It’s actually a little bit of a reversal of the contronym. Such a great puzzle.
So, as I often say, Paul thinks, Hebraicly, not like a Roman or Greek. The comparable verb in Hebrew is radad. It means to beat down or to bring to near extinction. Paul is telling Timothy that as he leads others to discipleship that the world and powers will try to exterminate them.
Interesting, has discipleship been exterminated in the US?
This is where I have to come down to my main point that we don’t really fit the definition of biblical persecution today. When we say we are persecuted as Christians today, we likely aren’t. We may be experiencing brief moments of momentary trouble, but likely not persecution.
Evangelical Christian Americans might be going through trials are even tribulation, but in my opinion, none of us (or very few of us) have really been persecuted. We like to think we are the remnant of discipleship but look around. Does it look like we are living out what Paul and Jesus describe as discipleship? When Paul is planting churches in the New Testament he is sent out as an apostle and established a discipleship community where people leave the world and study the Bible for 5-6 hours a day and live in the community together. They don’t need to worry about tomorrow because they don’t have much of this world to worry about.
Now if you live in this kind of community you’re going to be persecuted.
Peter Leithart (one of my favorites) says, “Christianity is institutionalized worldliness . . . worldliness that has become so much our second nature that we call it piety.”
Leithart argues persuasively that what we call Christianity is really the accommodation of religious ideals and doctrines to the larger culture. We have converted the Kingdom of God community of Jesus discipleship into an acceptable form of right thinking and right feeling. But this isn’t what Jesus or Paul described as an “all in” disciple. The reason we aren’t beat down is because, as Jesus said, we have become lovers of the world. By and large, Christianity is now the religious effort to meld with the culture instead of the call to stand in opposition to the culture – and that culture includes the Church.
We as a church are no longer cultivating a Jesus community discipleship culture.
Ecclesiastes 4:12 “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
If you have attended any wedding in the last several years you have probably heard a pastor refer to the cord of 3 strands mentioned in Ecclesiastes 4. There is a lot more to this than what you likely heard at the wedding though.
The English word for cord is Biblically rooted in the Hebrew word tiqvah, which has a subtly different meaning/translation in every one of its thirty-one English occurrences. It signifies something deeply longed for or set apart… hope.
In Joshua 2:14 we get a bit of a wordplay in the way that Tiqvah is also translated as “hope.” Rahab is saved by hope, but she “saved” the spies. There is another word play later when the text says that Rahab is brought “into the midst” of Israel. In Hebrew the dual meaning of “into the midst” also are the words for the womb or “inner part” in Hebrew. The imagery is that Rahab is a harlot involved in “inner parts” sin but is transferred into communal salvation, redemption, and deliverance, an exodus motif again. This is the contronym of hope in the Bible, that your worst curse might be given to God and the result might be transformed into the greatest blessing of your life.
THREEFOLD CORD – HACHUT HAMESHULASH החוט המשׁלשׁ
At face value Ecclesiastes 4:12 is a strange verse to apply to a wedding. The immediate context is defense of an attack, but the greater context is of intimate love and marriage.
The word withstand in Hebrew is ‘amed which means taking a firm position, but it’s a strange choice for the word. It isn’t a “stand and fight” word… it’s a building word that describes a foundation; building on a firm foundation. It carries the notion of a strong fortress in unity rather than a “fight.” It is one of the many passages painting a backward kingdom idea that paves the way for the messiah’s core message of the ultimate humility in servanthood.
In ancient times a threefold cord was a measuring tape. Equal lengths of a cord were tied together; most of the Hebrew culture thrived on building. If you remember, the Hebrew temple was formed together like a puzzle (with no fasteners) they were craftsman very different than the rest of the world. In order to form the best built (and strongest) items in the world (without using fasteners) foundationally they had to measure things well. This is where a cord of three comes in. It was the basic tool that most craftsman used to fashion something that the entire community could be proud of. It reminded them constantly of who they represented. They weren’t like the world, they were to be unified in their body and fit together like a puzzle with each part serving a purpose.
In many ways it became a mosaic of freedom, heritage, and calling that served as a reminder that all of their “work” should be fully devoted to the Lord.
The craftsmen’s cord was typically 3 strands measuring 6 palms or what was more commonly referred to as a cubit. 1 ell [cubit] (amah) = 2 spans (zeret), or 6 palms [handbreadths]
What you “made” was representative of who your people “were.” It also continually reminded you that you were linked to a higher power. The foundation was based on the brotherhood of mediation founded in covenant calling. Your part of something much greater than yourself.
Every time you built something you were representing the “father” but also the covenant “brotherhood.” That’s where we get that (UNION) term today.
If your core (foundation was off or missing the measured mark) or your covenant was not correct, nothing else could “square” up or be measured correctly. It would all be wrong.
Are we are letting the world measure our lives? Have we lost our covenant cord? Have we forgotten who we represent?
DIVING DEEPER: For those willing to be “challenged”
It is no secret that I often feel like the church is off course (hamartia / missing the mark) compared to what Jesus asks of us. Our basis of measurement for determining where we have been and are headed seems skewed between the world and the kingdom of Jesus. Some argue that the church looks nothing like the intentions of the first century apostles or what Jesus sought to build. Many would even say that the church often does as much harm as good. That we are enabling the world in the name of Jesus and have wondered far from the call of discipleship in the very name of it.
Jesus says to check your possessions on the beach, Christian Americans have just as many possessions as their worldly counterparts. Jesus tells us (the church) to care for the poor and weak, yet our worldly government does a far better job of this than any church I have witnessed. Jesus tells us to live in humility even to death, but the church doesn’t resemble servanthood or martyrdom much anymore. Sexual perversion within the ranks of church leadership are all too common. There are several reasons for these things but one of them is that our standard of measurement is long lost or forgotten.
Joshua 2 describes the cord as a scarlet line in a window that would give deliverance, it takes on the continued exodus motif of the Israelite people into their promised land. You also might remember the Mishnah when talking about the bloody tie cord of the sacrifice placed on the head of a scapegoat then hung on the curtain of the holy of holies.
Scarlet is a Biblical metaphor for things that are lost in the world but have been regained at great cost. It sometimes can carry sexual connotation because of the intimacy inferred. It is the closest metaphor we may have on this earth to the intimacy our father in Heaven desires with us on a spiritual level. Sex is also a contronym in the Bible showing something that can be the furthest from God’s plan for you and the closest when performed in the right or wrong context of the heart.
The English word for cord in Hebrew is the word tiqvah, which has a subtly different meaning/translation in every one of its thirty-one English occurrences. It signifies something deeply longed for or set apart and poetically displays a great dynamic range. This is one of the greatest themes of the Bible & a great study on what covenant means. I referenced Joshua 2:18 because I wanted to point out an intentional word-play; a great example of the elaborate interconnections found in the Hebrew Scripture that are invisible to us in English. I say this a lot, but the ancient scriptures weren’t written to us in our modern church (but they are for us); they are clearly written in Hebrew to Hebrew readers because Hebrew readers can read between the lines. Foundationally we have to understand what is going on here before we can apply it to ourselves today.
The wordplay comes in the way that Tiqvah is also translated “hope.” Think of it as a deeply desired lifeline in the story of Rahab and how she is “linked” to the Messiah. Rahab is saved by hope, but she “saved” the spies. There is another word play later when the text says that Rahab is brought “into the midst” of Israel. In Hebrew the dual meaning of “into the midst” also are the words for the womb or “inner part” in Hebrew. The imagery is that Rahab is a harlot involved in “inner parts” sin but is transferred into a sign of salvation, redemption, and deliverance, the exodus motif again. This is the contronym of hope in the Bible, that your worst curse might be given to God and the result might be transformed into the greatest blessing of your life. The red cord protected Rahab’s family as a similar sign of a red Passover offering for them. Notice the communal focus of salvation. The individual affects the whole community. (Today we think me-istic in terms of church rather than see the results of the whole fellowship foundationally missing the mark.) Rahab should be someone that Israel is told not to associate with, but instead grace leads way to hope and even links her to the line of the Messiah. We are “the line” of Rahab as Gentiles grafted into the faith and offered a lifeline to the Father to be restored in hope through grace to be a royal chosen priesthood. We are offered the scarlet line of grace but asked to foundationally follow what is asked of us… one of the related problems today is that as a whole the evangelical church has welcomed uncleanliness into the church and communally caused us to miss the foundation given to us. We have fallen out of the line of grace but expect what is offered with the covenant of three strands we have rejected.
At face value Ecclesiastes 4:12 is a strange verse to apply to a wedding. The immediate context is defense of an attack, but the greater context is of intimate love and marriage.
As we exegetically analyze the verse we need to first ask who is prevailing, the attacker or the attacked? In English it’s a hot mess, in Hebrew it is clear. The syntax shows that the pronoun is an “inseparable pronoun” that is attached to the verb teqepo (prevail) so it is the attacker overcoming the one being attacked. If it were a separable pronoun then it would be the other way around. The word withstand is ‘amed which means taking a firm position, but it’s a strange word. It isn’t a “stand and fight” word… it’s a building word that describes a foundation; building on a firm foundation. The word two is hashamin literally the two. There is a definite article in front of that too signifying that a very specific person will stand against this one prevailing. The word for prevail is teqepo, which signifies the strongest of resistance can be won or overcome. There is also an inference in the unity of the body being stronger together.
Threefold cord in Hebrew is hachut hameshulash. In ancient times a threefold cord was a measuring tape. Equal lengths of a cord were tied together; most of the Hebrew culture thrived on building. If you remember, the Hebrew temple was formed together like a puzzle (with no fasteners) they were craftsman very different than the rest of the world. In order to form the best built items in the world foundationally they had to measure things well. This is where a cord of three comes in. It was the basic tool that most craftsman used to fashion something that the entire community could be proud of. Often times, it was a rite of passage for a young man to take time to fashion an incredible cord of three strands. It would identify him and his family. In many ways it became a mosaic of freedom, heritage, and calling that served as a reminder that all of their “work” should be fully devoted to the Lord.
The craftsmen’s cord was typically 3 strands measuring 6 palms or what was more commonly referred to as a cubit. But they likely had cords of three strands for other common units too… but always a cord of three strands. Interesting that today 6 palms is around 16 on center.
The Israelite measurements were related as follows:
These three strands represented a few things. It first represented your trust in covenant community, it was more than about just you. What you “made” was representative of who your people “were.” it also continually reminded you that you were linked to a higher power. The foundation was based on the brotherhood of mediation founded in covenant calling.
So how do we get to a wedding union out of this? Well, that’s what Ecclesiastes is about… but not entirely. Essentially, the Hebrew understood that God was the foundation of every relationship that they represented in. This cord was a tool to measure. It would remind them every day that their measurements in life should be weighed with God’s ideals, and not by the rest of the world. The Hebrews had their own unit of measurements that were different from the rest of the world, and those very units reminded them of the one who gave them redemption. Every time you built something you were representing the “father” but also the covenant “brotherhood.” That’s where we get that (UNION) term in modern today.
If your core (foundation was off or missing the measured mark) or your covenant was not correct, nothing else could “square” up or be measured correctly. It would all be wrong.
Tying the Knot? Hebrew?
I bet your wondering if this is where we get the slogan “tying the knot” for marriage. yes and no. To the Hebrew the answer is no. You see the cord of three strands is specifically “fitted or formed,” (today we say braided together); it was not tied or knotted up. In fact, a knot is what you “don’t” want. In an ancient context if something was knotted up that was symbolic of a problem. In this example if there was a not in your cord of three strands that links you to God in marriage it meant something was broken or clogged up. For instance, if you tie a knot in a rope and apply pressure guess where the rope breaks? At the knot, you theoretically created a weak spot. Those who “tie” knots actually realize that splicing a rope together in a braid like fashion actually creates strength unlike a knot. The Hebrews understood this and would have never said that we are “tying a knot” in marriage. That would have implied something negative not positive. However, the rest of the world observed the Hebraic braid of the marriage ceremony and called it tying the knot. In essence, that saying does come from this Hebraic act, it just isn’t really accurate in the Hebraic or biblical sense. It is actually the opposite!
In the modern evangelical wedding, there’s an emphasis to start things off on the right foot in covenant with God. But it means so much more than this, it means that every single thing that we do needs to be with the “measurement” of the Lord in mind first and foremost. In ancient Hebraic mindset, sinners (or those that were not set apart) were not to be part of the community (assembly-ekklesia) until they had converted. Today our modern thought of inviting anyone, and everyone to church in hopes of converting them has lost the foundation of covenant, and led to defilement… it is inviting what is unholy not holy. We are letting the world measure our lives and tie the church in knots. This is just a simple example of many areas that have gotten off or skewed because foundationally we have lost our covenant cordage. In some cases we have gotten so far off that I am not sure we are even recognizable as the disciples Jesus intended us to be in terms of representing HIS IMAGE.
It isn’t too late to return to the mindset of measuring everything by what Jesus says matters, but it will likely take a community that is in covenant together to get there!
-The Source of Measures by James Ralston Skinner
-The Cubit: A History and Measurement Commentary by Mark H. Stone
-Cube, Gate, and Measuring Tools: A Biblical Pattern by Matthew B. Brown
-Marital Relations in Ancient Judaism (review) by Dvora E. Weisberg
Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies
-TEMPORARY MARRIAGE: A COMPARISON OF THE JEWISH AND ISLAMIC CONCEPTIONS
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 July 2018
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” -Philippians 2:5
Today we blame a lot on someone’s Attitude. In our modern [American] culture this can mean practically anything. It can mean your mental stability, your mindset, your heart set, your gut reaction, what drives you, ambition, love, emotion, or a plethora of other things. But in Philippians it takes on a more specific [cultural] meaning that had a great wealth of traditional Hebraic understanding.
This simple sentence is PARAMOUNT to the Christian journey and had foundational thinking rooted in ancient Judaism since the time of the Torah. The word translated as “attitude” in English is the Greek verb phroneo. It is important to see that in English we have translated it changing it to a noun rather than the Greek verb that it was intended. The intention of the original language was to show the continuing action of the ancient Torah principles that is transferred and made new in Christ.
When I attended Moody Bible Institute in the early 1990’s it was the center of training for Jews for Jesus. The first week I was there I was invited to a messianic synagogue and witnessed a young child recite one of the minor prophets, the entire book. He did so slowly with skilled oration demonstrating his understanding of the poetic narrative and that he thoroughly knew the content. I leaned over to my friend and said, “that is amazing!” She looked back at me visibly disgusted and said, “you have no idea.” I continued to represent the average evangelical Christian to someone who was extremely turned off by my notion of faith and devotion. Why?
I grew up in Awana cramming verses into my head spewing them out as fast as I could. This is American learning and far from the original idea of being immersed in Torah. In ancient Hebraic culture you demonstrated that you not only memorized the Scripture but that you thoroughly understood and applied it to your heart, soul, and mind (the SHEMA). This was the idea of “knowing” the Torah. It was more than simply memorization, it was an “attitude” for life.
When Paul writes about having the same “attitude” of Christ this is what he was referring to, it is a melding of what was sacred and what was made alive and new in Christ. To not “just” have the SHEMA upon you every day, but even take this a step further to have complete servanthood within the attitude. (Servanthood had been replaced by the second temple with a rabbinical hierarchy that Jesus often spoke against.) Today we don’t even match the SHEMA’s idea “attitude” let alone upgrade it to a Jesus sense of it.
Getting back to the text, phroneo was a verb that took into mind practical thinking and living. This is likely an idiom style word that would have reminded them of the words and many teachings of the SHEMA, & the Jewish tripod. It was a balance of life based on Torah understanding, worship within the heart, and culminated in compassion of the hands. In Jewish circles this is often explained as “HEAD TO HEART TO HANDS.” Then Paul takes it one step further and applies the servanthood of Christ. This is a total mind, heart, and hand transplant.
Today as modern Christians we have forgotten the balance. I have long said that American Christianity has lost two of the most important recipes for the foundation of what God asks of us; sacred devotion and the “understanding” of the scripture that is well demonstrated by the hands. Most churches are so fixated on salvation that they leave the rest of the church around an elementary level of Torah or scriptural understanding. According to the Judaic mindset if you don’t have the foundation of Torah (scripture) you can’t expect it to permeate the heart and it certainly won’t be demonstrated by the hands. Sadly, I would propose that is why our modern church doesn’t often look much like the hands of Christ. Perhaps the hands of our church today don’t resemble the hands of Jesus very well because we never got the foundation of the scriptures “memorized” and therefore haven’t taken on the attitude that our hands and heart should demonstrate.
Today we need to get back to a thorough sacred understanding of God and His word tied to the heart and exhibited in the hands of Christ. This is what God has asked of His followers for thousands of years, is it completely lost today? Jesus said leave your stuff on the beach and follow me, but most of us haven’t even made it to the beach yet.
When the Bible (both OT & NT) speaks against idolatry, it does not have (US) modern humanity in view. It was addressed to a primary ancient near east audience and culture thousands of years ago and was “written for us, but not to us” (as my good friend John Walton often says); yet the message is still vitally relevant today. Eph 6 is aimed at the ancient near east societies that worshipped other gods, that is, societies that had the wrong trajectory of worship. What I find interesting is these “pagan” societies still believed in the sacred, perhaps even more than the evangelical church does today. They were off course in not worshipping YHVH, but they had the notion of what was sacred and to be valued in other gods. Conversely, our culture today is not sacred, but we still give away our hearts to and/or “worship” other entities. This is why so many today are walking away from the church and Frank Viola would call main stream evangelical Christianity “Pagan Christianity.” By Biblical definition, we are worshipping the wrong entities and they aren’t even sacred. We are worse than Paul’s Rome.
Today we have sent God into exile as we frolic in “our” Babylon.
Pagan worldliness has abdicated the spiritual world. “Forces” have replaced the sacred.
Today we live in a world that doesn’t honor anything sacred but still operates by similar forces, (not a personal God.) We are concerned with the social forces that affect our comfort, the economic forces that affect security, the political forces that shape our fear and prosperity, and the moral and ethical forces that govern interpersonal relationships. What we (the modern evangelical church) usually call “Satan”, or “spiritual powers” are almost always the world forces that we continue to “worship”, and thus we enter into a similar ancient relationship of modern enslavement and idol or power/god over forces. In the same type of thinking as the Ancient Near East thinking of idolatry and gods, we fear that these modern forces will at the very least control us, and possibly even extinguish or annihilate us. For the first time in human history, the world is without gods, any gods, including YHVH the God of Israel.
Peter Leithart (one of my favorites) also observed that modern Christianity (and specifically the modern church) is nothing more than institutionalized worldliness. It is Rome ensconced in the sanctuary.
Our culture is idolatrous and is controlled by powers/forces/systems of the world. We don’t worship a one true God in the sense of “everything or all.” The world is no longer sacred. There are some who still desire to live set apart wholly devoted as sacred to YHVH, but will their actions ever truly live that out? Will we return as “Christian’s” to the allegiance that YHVH asks for or will we continue to live in idolatry?
An exegetical and cultural review of 1 Peter 2:13-17 by Expedition 44 YouTube co-host Matt Mouzakis
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. As free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:13-17 NASB)
We have done several videos on a Christian’s involvement in government. 1 Peter 2:13-17 is a text that is often cited as the primary passage of instruction in this conversation.
The interpretation of this passage put forth in many American Evangelical churches and Protestant churches teaches dual citizenship; that the church rules in the realm of spiritual things and the government in the area of the polis. This “dual citizenship” idea allows Christians to still feel an obligation to participate in the systems of this world and even positively encourages to be politically involved in them; yet somehow, they still consider themselves to be “spiritual exiles”. This always seemed a bit gnostic to me, or perhaps a contradiction of terms. This idea of two kingdoms or dual citizenship came about as a result of the politics of the Reformation. Earlier this week was the 505th anniversary of the Reformation. The Reformation brought much good but, in my opinion, did not go far enough back in their reforms.
The idea of two kingdoms is credited mainly to Martin Luther. This doctrine granted independence to the state and the church in the spheres in which they rule. The government was to have free reign in the secular sphere and the church in the spiritual, both as God’s instruments. An example of this is seen in the peasant revolt. Prince Fredrick comes to Luther citing the Sermon on the Mount (loving enemies, turning the other cheek, etc.) and asking for advice on how to bring peace since it seems that Jesus is against violently crushing the revolt. Luther, referring to passages like Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2, tells him that his role as the authority mandates him to take a harsh (even violent) stand against the rebelling peasants, it is the role he plays as a civic leader. The moral calling of the government is viewed as a top of the social hierarchal authority and not a bottom one as of a Christian. So, Fredrick proceeds to violently slaughter a bunch of peasants to “bring peace”. Luther essentially tells the Prince that those in political power, including Christians, must resort to coercive and violent methods to manage the state even when they go against the ethic of Christ. The other side of this is that the Church is simply placed into the realm of dealing with the spiritual and Christ is demoted to “secretary of afterlife affairs” instead of King of kings and Lord of lords.
We need to ask if this doctrine and this way of interpretating 1 Peter 2 results in entanglement with the kingdoms of this world. I believe there is a better interpretation of 1 Peter 2:13-17 based on the context. The following interpretation shows that we are exiles and ambassadors here for the Kingdom of God and we have citizenship in only one kingdom: the kingdom of God.
The letter of 1 Peter was written to Christians in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). He begins his letter calling the audience “called exiles and strangers/aliens” (1 Peter 1:1; 2:11). This audience has been living in this area for their entire lives; Jews having been here for generations after the dispersion and gentiles being in their native-born homeland. Yet, Peter calls them exiles and aliens because of their baptismal identity and they are now citizens in the Kingdom of God. He says they are “called”. The language of “called” or election in the OT was not simply about salvation but about a vocation or mission- ambassadorship.
This new citizenship this would have brought about social troubles in these times due to not participating in the emperor cult and the worship of the local gods. They were seen as atheists for only worshipping one God and unpatriotic for declaring the gospel of Jesus as Lord (and Caesar as not).
Preceding this text, we have Peter reminding these churches of their identity in Christ’s Kingdom and fact they are now exiles and aliens in the lands they live in,
“9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:11-12)
Peter kicks off his message about kings and rulers by reminding these churches that they are a set apart nation and not part of the kingdoms of the world.
Submit to the Government?
When we come to 1 Peter 2:13 it is often used in a way that tries to communicate the concept of outright obedience to the governing institutions. But the verse doesn’t say that. The word Peter uses for submission (hypotasso) meant to voluntarily yield, so this is not subjugation or outright obedience. If Peter meant obedience he had a word for that, but he did not use it (hypakouo). The concept of obedience is in 1 Peter but it is applied only to God (1 Pet 1:2,14, 22). Peter says this submission is “for the Lord’s sake” and we’ll see how he defines this as we continue.
The next thing that we need to look at is the word that is translated as “human institutions” in the text (some translate it as “human authority”). The Greek word for “institution” is ktisis. This word is used 19 times in the NT and it always means a creature, being, or God’s creation act. It never is used to communicate a human institution or any type of human authority. A better translation of this would say, “submit to every human creature/being”. This sounds very much like Paul in Ephesians 5:21, “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”. I believe Peter is trying to communicate two things: 1) We are to submit to every human out of love and reverence for Christ because they are made in His image and worthy of honor and dignity, and 2) It is also a subversion of the idea that Caesar had authority and was like the gods (or a god himself). So, Peter is saying “nah, he’s a created human being like anyone else”, and thus taking Caesar down a notch by removing his divinity.
God’s Will for Government?
The next idea that many try to extract from this text is that government leaders and governments are established by God to punish evildoers and praise those who do good. There are a few things we will need to realize here though, first, contrary to the way our good friend Pastor Steve Cassell interpreted this text in our voting episode, the text never says that God appoints the king or the governors. 1 Peter 3:14 says the king appoints the governors, not God, and then simply explains the local governor’s job description. 1 Peter 2:13-17 does not speak of any God ordained role for kings or governors, that must be read into the text.
Many will cite Romans 13 and the “ordaining” of governments and authorities or the governments as a servant. But there are also plenty of texts that show how God doesn’t set up governmental leaders (1 Sam 8; Hos 8:4) and actually says it’s against His will. Also, there is the fact that pagan nations were called God’s “servants” (Assyria, Babylon, etc.) and then used to punish Israel and other nations. This simply communicates that God can use kings, governors, or governments as a tool to accomplish His means. (See our article on Romans 13)
One thing that is often missed here is the cultural context of the honor-shame society in the Roman world. When people did great deeds in public there was an expectation to receive public honor. Peter is not telling the Christian about the “God ordained role” of governors or rulers but rather about living such good lives in love to their neighbors that the governors and rulers would have to publicly honor them. God can use the governors as a tool to publicly honor Godly deeds and people. Peter’s point here is to counter the thoughts of violent retaliation against authorities for the injustice done when Christians refuse to follow the Roman culture (1 Pet 2:11) and instead following the way of Christ and the example of the suffering servant. In doing this the governors and kings will be forced by custom to honor Christians, their behavior, and way of life because of the good it brings.
The Way of Christ
In 1 Peter 2:16 he says the church is free, they are not slaves to the kings or governors but not to use that freedom for evil but to rather to subvert in love. He explains this in verse 17, “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king”. This goes along with the interpretation suggested above that this is about equal honor of all human beings; “all people” and “the king” are put in equality. Yet, there is a special kind of love for the brotherhood/sisterhood of Christ. Also notice that fear is reserved only for God, just like obedience is.
Now we need to chase a squirrel (excursus) for a minute… There are many who bring up the idea that in the USA “we do not have kings, we have representatives” or “our Republic form of government can’t be applied to these texts because it did not exist then”. The issue being addressed here is not the style of governing institution but the issue of human authority- Who is your authority? Let’s define “authority”: it is the idea that some people have the moral right to forcibly control others, and consequently, those others have the moral obligation to obey. Sounds like our government even though we have “representatives”.
We can say that our representatives “work for us” and “do our will”, but is it the truth? A Princeton study recently looked at 20 years of voting data researching the simple question of “does the American government represent the citizens”? They found that it does! But only if you are in the top 10% wealthiest Americans: the ones who use of lobbyists, which is 100% legal and constitutional. The study concluded “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”Usually the rebuttal to this is that the system is not working the way it should. But even at the ratification of the constitution there were 3 million people living in this country only 10% had a “voice”. If you were a slave, a woman, or didn’t own land you could not vote for a “representative”. It has always been about the rich ruling the poor and 10% “representing” the other 90%. George Washington when writing to John Jay about this said that the common people don’t have the common sense of what’s good for them so we must inject our imperial dignity. “We the People” has historically always been 10%. You cannot have true representation unless everyone is actually represented. The people are not represented despite the rhetoric and deceptive euphemisms such as “will of the people,” “consent of the governed,” and “representative government.” This quote sums it up,
“Thousands of years ago, megalomaniacs claimed to be gods in order to rule over their subjects. Once that stopped working, they claimed to be representatives of the gods in order to rule over their subjects. Once that stopped working, they claimed to be representatives of their subjects in order to rule over their subjects.”
Maybe the Republic can get better. Maybe your vote can make a difference (or maybe it’s an affirmation of an anti-Christ system?). I’m sympathetic to the redemptive movement found in scripture. I believe Jesus will make all things new! But I believe this comes through the organism of the church and not through the institutions and systems of the world. The message here is that when we look to anyone other than Jesus to govern us we are becoming idolatrous (1 Sam 8). We do pray for our leaders but in order than we can live quiet lives going about Kingdom business (1 Tim 2:1-2). We do honor “leaders” the same way we honor all made in God’s image. This all comes down to allegiance.
So, I do agree that the early Christians didn’t have a republic in view but their subversion of Rome was not due to the style of its government. It was because they declared Jesus as their King, the Kingdom of God as their government, and the Jesus upside-down way as it’s Law. If Jesus wanted a Christian nation he would have planted one or tried to make Rome “Christian”, but instead he started the church as His kingdom ambassadors. This goes back to the original plan in Eden for humans to live in equality under God’s rulership. The way of humans ruling over other humans is the result of the fall not the Edenic ideal. God’s ideal has always been a Thearchy/Theocracy. His call is for His disciples to plant these kingdom communities and pull the world into it rather than for Christians to take positions of power in the world systems and force their morality and ethics onto society. How can we expect people not born again by the Spirit to behave in a Christlike way? But we can work to transform hearts and minds by being the church. The early church (first 300 years of Christianity) did this and it began to transform the world until Constantine gave Christians political power in the 4th century. The pagans praised the Christians for their deeds of justice and societal transformation despite having no political power. They took care of the poor, the outcast, the homeless, the mother, the baby, etc. better than they could. They prophetically acted justly to the “least of these” and spoke truth in love to power from the margins of society. This was way the early church interpreted what Jeremiah tells the exiles in Babylon- to seek the good of the city and in its peace (shalom) you will have peace (Jer 29:4-7). We need to stop outsourcing the call of the church to the government.
When Jesus was on trial with Pilate he says he is a King and “His kingdom is not of this world [like this world], if it was his subjects would be fighting [would be using power over tactics]”. Yet what we see a lot of in the American church is Christ’s subjects fighting to be in power. Jesus rebukes James and John when they want positions of power in His kingdom with the strongest NO you can get: “it is not so among you” (Matt 20:26). If Jesus didn’t even let his disciples have political power in his Kingdom do we really think he would want Christians have political power in the kingdoms of the world? The early church went around proclaiming this King and His way of life. This is actually what the Gospel is. It is not an individual self-focused proclamation of forgiveness of sins (these are the benefits) but an announcement of a new king and a new way of life.
“These men [Paul and Co.] who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”Acts 17:6-7
Don’t get me wrong here, I am not calling for Christians to overthrow the government. Jesus didn’t do that. Jesus and Christians seek peace- they are peacemakers. Jesus acknowledged that Satan ruled the kingdoms of the world and declared that seeking political power was equal to worshipping Satan (Matt 4:8-10). The government that is proclaimed in the prophet Isaiah that “shall be on his shoulders” is not America or any other earthly nation, They will be put under Jesus feet and suffer the same fate as death (1 Cor 15:24-26) because they are really Satan’s agents of death. It is the Kingdom of God that is the government on Christ’s shoulders. I am calling for the church to get disentangled and live in the power-under way of Christ and His kingship. We see Paul speak of the wisdom of the way of the cross which is foolishness to the world and yet says it is this wisdom is what declares to the rulers and authorities that they are “coming to nothing” (1 Cor 2:6). It is time to get back to being ambassadors and exiles until God’s kingdom comes in fullness and until His will is done on earth as it is in heaven!
If we still try to take a positive view of the “authority” of kings, governors, or governments from the text it would be very difficult based on the context proceeding 1 Peter 2:13-17. After Peter speaks about kings and rulers, he uses 2 other parallel examples to show how Christians should relate to worldly “authority” in order to win others by behavior. First, we have the example of slaves and masters in 1 Peter 2:18-20 and next the patriarchal system of the Roman household codes in 1 Peter 3:1-7. In each we see a posture of submission and love in order to bring these “authorities” into the Kingdom of God. If we want to take a positive view of “authority” of government or kings from 1 Peter 2:13-17 we must also make the case that slavery and patriarchal systems are part of God’s ideals and positive as well since these three are literary parallels. We obviously cannot do that, though many Christians throughout history have tried to and some are still trying to… but that is another conversation for another time. The point Peter makes to those under these systems is not to subvert them in the way the world would (violence, etc.) but rather through the way of Christ.
In the middle of these texts, Peter gives the example for Christians to follow, which is the way of their King,
You have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.1 Peter 2:21-25
And then in the end of this discourse we see how the church should look different than the world in the area of marriage and thus should look different in the other two areas of slavery and “authority” as well,
You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered. To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. For, “The one who desires life, to love and see good days, Must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. “He must turn away from evil and do good; He must seek peace and pursue it. “For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, And His ears attend to their prayer, But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.
1 Peter 3:7-16
Peter lays out the mission- it is to image the way of Jesus. The church’s role is to reflect heaven on earth as heavenly outposts in this world. Therefore, believing husbands should live in an understanding way with their wife because they are socially lower/weaker in the Roman society (not weaker sex in mind or strength). In the church they are fellow co-heirs in the Kingdom. This is language of kingdom equality and echoes his message of honor towards all humans. Notice that Peter says if husbands don’t live in equality that their prayers will be hindered! This is all completely backwards compared to the Roman society.
Peter concludes with the example of Christ and the mission of love as the way to “stand up” and notice it looks like how you live your life as a reflection of Jesus character rather that how vocal you are about standing up for “truth”. There is a time to speak up for justice but it must be done with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15). The American church (me included) often concentrates on the part about always having a defense for our hope but often lacks in the Christlike character that is at the foundation of this verse in the context: being harmonious, kind-hearted, humble, not returning evil for evil (violence for violence), not returning insult for insult, blessing those who come against us, and actively seeking peace.
The Early Church
The disciples of the disciples (early church fathers) in the first 300 years of Christianity did not agree on everything but when it came to this view of Jesus as King it was a virtually unanimous view. The Constantine shift changed the entire view of Christians and the state when the church got entangled politically. Yet, the early church prior to this shift did not base their convictions on who was the earthly king or what kind of government system they lived under. Jesus was king and this was the reason they could not participate in any empire or state despite who was in charge or what format it was ruled in. Now we don’t put the Church Fathers on the same level as scripture but they do give us insight into what the early Christians believed based on scripture and from being taught by the disciples and the disciples of the disciples.
“Celsus [A Pagan] also urges us [Christians] to ‘take office in the government of the country, if that is necessary for the maintenance of the laws and the support of religion.’ However, we recognize in each state the existence of separate national organization that was founded by the Word of God. And we exhort those who are mighty in word and of blameless life to rule within churches.… So, it is not for the purpose of escaping public duties that Christians decline public offices. Rather, it is so they may reserve themselves for a more divine and necessary service in the church of God [Kingdom of God]—for the salvation of men.” – Origen
“To those who ask us whence we have come or whom we have for a leader, we say that we have come in accordance with the counsels of Jesus to cut down our warlike and arrogant swords of argument into ploughshares, and we convert into sickles the spears we formerly used in fighting. For we no longer take ‘sword against a nation,’ nor do we learn ‘any more to make war,’ having become sons of peace for the sake of Jesus, who is our leader.” – Origin
“Among us you will find uneducated persons, and artisans, and old women, who, if they are unable in words to prove the benefit of our doctrine, yet by their deeds exhibit the benefit arising from their persuasion of its truth: they do not rehearse speeches, but exhibit good works; when struck, they do not strike again; when robbed, they do not go to law; they give to those that ask of them, and love their neighbors as themselves.” – Athenagoras
We Christians have no pressing inducement to take part in your public meetings; nor is anything more entirely foreignto us than the affairs of the state. – Tertullian
Shall we carry a flag? No, it is rival to Christ! – Tertullian
I owe no duty to forum, campaign, or senate. I stay awake for no public function. I make no effort to occupy a platform. I am no office seeker. I have no desire to smell out political corruption. I shun the voters booth, the juryman’s bench. I break no laws and push no lawsuits; I will not serve as a magistrate or judge. I refuse to do military service. I desire to rule over no one- I have withdrawn from worldly politics! – Tertullian
“For how can he be just who injures, hates, despoils, kills? And those who strive to serve their country do all these things.”— Lactantius
If you are a Christian, no earthly country is yours. God is a better builder and maker of our country. Even if we gained possession of the entire world, we are nevertheless immigrants and foreigners. We are enrolled in Heaven; our citizenship is there. Virtue of soul is what we put on and is our defense, not the greatness of our nation… our warfare is to make the dead to live, not make the living die. – John Chrysostom
“A military commander or civic magistrate must resign or be rejected. If a believer seeks to become a soldier, he must be rejected, for he has despised God.” Hippolytus of Rome
I could keep going and going with evidence from the first 300 years of Christianity. But the point is that they lived out the politics of Jesus and the teachings of the apostles that we have seen in this text from 1 Peter 2.
Submit yourself in love to your neighbor (and your enemy)
Disciples live as exiles and ambassadors of a different Kingdom
Disciples pledge allegiance to one king and one kingdom
Disciples subvert in though love and power-under service instead of power-over tactics
Jesus said that you cannot serve 2 masters (Matt 6:24) and you can gain the whole world and lose your soul (Matt 16:26)- Worldly politics will definitely do this. James says friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4). Paul says no soldier entangles himself in civilian affairs but is about pleasing his Master (2 Tim 2:4). The evidence of the New Testament and the Early Church shows us how off base the two kingdoms and dual citizenship teaching of the Reformation was. Let’s start a new Reformation and take the church all the way back to the teachings of Christ! Back to true discipleship!
The example and way of Christ is to suffer in love, to bear the sin of others in love, and to bring peace through your actions and behavior that will turn the world upside-down. Through this way of life Jesus brought stray sheep home and we are called to follow the King’s pattern. We subvert the kingdoms of the world through love of neighbor, not violence. We submit in order to win those in “authority” over to God’s Kingdom. This power-under way of Christ is the mission of His ambassadors!
Perhaps the most bizarre story in the entire Bible is the story where Jesus visits a very “dark” domain and speaks to the evil spirits, and they enter some pigs and run off a cliff into the water. It is bizarre for many reasons and most people don’t know what to do with it. It comes off incredibly weird to our culture; and makes people uncomfortable. Unfortunately, the details of the story induce a lot of “wrong” theological thinking within our modern cultural mindset; the average evangelical reader has no filter or hermeneutic plan for something so bizarre within their western Christian clothing. As a result, it leaves most people walking away with a negative Biblical experience. I think this is the result of kindergarten Christianity. The pre-eminent call of Jesus is to transition from a fan to follower, and to eventually be a completely devoted disciple checking everything on the beach and entering the journey to know Jesus and completely give yourself to him in heart, mind, and action. Most within the church won’t become a disciple (possibly until after death) and therefore can’t shepherd others into discipleship while on this earthly journey of sanctification. But this is a story geared at those who have made the decision to become intimate disciples fully given to their pursuit for the kingdom of Jesus (here and now) and they are clearly in training under the tutelage of The Great Shepherd. However, not eve all of them seem to fulfill the calling.
Mk 5:1-10, Mt 8:28-34 and Lk 8:26-39 tell what seems to be the same story yet there are several differences or variances. One mentions two demoniacs and the other text simply says one. As a theologian or simply a faithful disciple, it leaves us asking the question, “what are the viable solutions within the harmony of scripture?” Are they different episodes? No, they seem to be the same. Why the discrepancy? My friend Michael Sandberg (A previous pastor at our church) gave a brief explanation that the texts are NOT necessarily in disagreement. One text might refer to one man and another two, but both can be correct and likely are. I am good with that explanation that took Michael less than a minute and usually feel that is a great way to preach to the masses from the pulpit. Don’t major on the minors, pose the problems, present a good hermeneutical approach, and present harmonized solutions within the complete lens of scripture. If there are multiple views briefly present them and create a positive Biblical challenge for people to dive in deeper. Create a culture of discipleship and invite the Spirit to move past you.
Well, that might take care of the first and most obvious issue at hand (and be enough for the casual Christian); there are other problems with the text that a deeper disciple is going to want to work through. As we challenge people to dive in deeper someone needs to offer a better shepherded experience. My life calling has been to master the depth of the Scriptures and shepherd others to a similar understanding. That is also one of the core values of Covenant Theological Seminary (CTS) where I am involved.
To continue with the passage, the less scholarly will have a problem with the slight variation in location. Mark 5:1 states the country of the Ger’asenes (Luke 8:26 is identical) but Matthew 8:28 reads the country of the Gadarenes. I won’t expound much here. A simple internet search will show you they are logically rendered as the same place.
The next place I want to visit is the interpretation of the narrative story. The first thing we should do in any study is think Biblically and logically. According to scripture what makes the most sense? What is happening in this bizarre story?
Most mainstream preachers will take a traditional perspective that the demons shriek at Jesus’ mere image; and Jesus threatens to torment them all the way to the lake of fire (abyss) where they will be tortured forever. It is usually followed up with some kind of judgment day inuendo with a “watch out or maybe you will end up there too” mindset, pressuring people to make a decision so they won’t be forever tormented by Jesus placing their faith in the 7 steps of salvation or something similar. Framework like this gets its roots from the Penal Substitutionary view of Atonement and overflows towards an Eternal Torment Conscious view of hell. As they are likely both common traditional views, in my opinion they lean very reformed and are likely the least biblically based of all the theological views on atonement and hell. My main issue with both of them is that they present Jesus in a near opposite fashion of who He was and what He represented to the church and lost world. If this conversation is new to you, I would recommend you start with my book “This is the way.”
Greg Boyd on ReKnew.org makes an excellent point that “Some find it morally objectionable that this mass suicide was the result of Jesus allowing the multitude of demons that possessed this man to enter into them. Does this story present Jesus as someone who evidenced a callous disregard for the welfare of these animals?” Personally, I think animals are delicious. I am not going to have a lot of personal issues killing pigs, but I still am with Boyd on this theologically. I am not sure Jesus would simply slaughter pigs. I don’t think it’s a great take on the text. (Boyd ends up landing here as perhaps being the best option of the alternative variables essentially – which I continue to struggle with, but think is a good or acceptable theological view.)
If you have watched our x44 atonement series you will see that I typically fall somewhere around a Christus Victor view of atonement, but as Scot McKnight in “A Community Called Atonement” alludes, I carry a few other (golf) clubs. But your atonement thoughts are going to affect this pig story and mine tie into (at least somewhat) the cosmic battle at the cross that I think is worth exploring. I would suggest that the main emphasis of this story is over the cosmic battle of the cross which Matt and I discuss in our X44 church series PART 9 episode on Philadelphia, you can watch it here.
This brings me to the main thrust of this article. I have a hat that says, “into the storm” and people ask me what it means all the time. It was made by Froning Farms, a bison jerky company, and I don’t think they are Christians, but I have “reclaimed” the slogan and I love to wear the hat. (And have since made x44 versions of the hat.) In these texts Jesus and His disciples come through a life-threatening storm and Jesus commands the storm to be calm. This is an allusion to God sometimes asking His disciples to step into the storm in total trust that God can heal and control everything that is in His domain.. That is what my hat means to me regardless of what it meant to the farm that made it. (Thank God my hermeneutics don’t have to line up with my clothing choices all the time! -or do they?)
In the ancient world water and storms represented chaos in the Bible. They are not necessarily good or evil they just simply happen. But sometimes the gods were wondered to be able to control them, and because of this, sometimes the water itself can take on an “evil” personification. In this way the water might represent the “home” of the evil. That is the story of the exodus and the Red Sea. The war of the gods. Yahweh vs the fallen spiritual beings, who will rise or immerse as the Lord of Lords? This occurrence is going to go back to that Deuteronomy 32 power struggle of the gods in many ways. If you aren’t familiar with this idea, you can watch our x44 video on it here. In this way God can even control the water which was said to be partially home to the “evil.” But water simply represents an agent (or literally house) that can be for good or bad. I will come back to this thought towards the end because I think we need to develop the core narrative first. Let’s first focus our attention to the storm itself.
Jesus silences the storm to be still by the word translated from phimoo. What is interesting about this is it is the same word that he uses to quiet the demons in at least two other places (Mk 4:39; cf. 1:25; Lk 4:35). This leads me away from the average chaos monster (water) of the ancient near East world and perhaps more towards a Christus Victor version of spiritual warfare within the water, especially because this is pre-cross and the spirits are unbound. There are multiple Greek negatives at work worth considering. Ouketi, oudeis, and oude build the emphatic triple negative in Greek. There becomes a word play on the description of him originally as “out of his mind” contrasted to in a “right mind” after he is healed. There is a strong sense of “pneuma” spirit language here both in and out of the water.
In the ancient world people were always wondering if the gods sent things or tampered with nature to react or rule over the people. Were the people in favor with the gods? Nearly every person, (and likely even the disciples) in this story may have expected a storm of this magnitude to have been the result of upset gods. (As the x44 video on Philadelphia points out, even by the letter (book) of revelation the culture was still thinking that way.) How do we appease the gods? Perhaps throw the bad guy out of the boat? That was the way they thought. Today we think this way about Karma, even though we don’t blame it on the gods we no longer believe in, most people still attribute power to some kind of known spiritual over-arching higher power or force.
Was the storm the result of an angry god or simply a product of the uncontrollable chaos of God’s world. Were they monsters that couldn’t be harnessed by anyone but God? Job might imply that only God can harness them which could also adjust your view here. In the exodus story, there seem to similar powers represented by the actual gods against Yahweh such as the Egyptian sorcerers. I will admit that the majority of the time we read of chaos in the scripture it seems more naturally not good or evil and just a description of what is (as I alluded to earlier). But this particular instance is strange and may give merit to handle it differently, more in the way that we interpret the Exodus story or the tower of Babel. The water seems to be full of spiritual warfare, and only Christ can calm it.
Perhaps this is the central message to this story of Jesus acting over the fallen spiritual powers (that we commonly refer to as demons in New Testament). From a Christus victor or Deuteronomy 32 perspective there is a lot going on here that is likely setting the stage for what happens at the cross. This is the manner to which Jesus enters into the “STORM” of darkness. It is the oppressed area of the gentiles. The text alludes to a naked man. In Hebraic thinking this is defilement language. This is the far other side of the tracks. This isn’t a place for the “body” of the Lord’s disciples in Hebraic thinking. They were told to not congregate in these areas of sin, not to be surrounded or let sin “cling” to them. We have to keep in mind though, that this is Jesus, and he is “changing” the trajectory from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant with every step. It still doesn’t necessarily give grounds for a “Christian” to go there, but at the same time it may be an invitation to “get to that place” as you are now called to live like Jesus and harness the power that will be transferred to you through the cross and resurrection and falling (or indwelling) of the Spirit. Jesus is about to obtain a feat that no one else has ever done and no one else will ever do. It is a game changer for the devout.
In Revelation 1:18 we read that Jesus holds the keys to Hades. This is something that happens during the three days before the resurrection. This hasn’t taken place during these texts yet. David Aune, has a book called Apocalypticism, Prophecy and Magic in Early Christianity. It isn’t for most evangelicals, but I do recommend it if you make it through this entire article and haven’t thrown in the towel. His work is a lot of things, one of which I appreciate is an exercise to understand and connect cosmic sovereignty language. Luckily some evangelicals have been very well introduced to this world of late through the writings of Dr. Michael Heiser and Dr. John Walton amongst others. Essentially what is happening here in Revelation, is that despite the fact that Christ was slain, He now holds the keys to life and death and emerges as the victor who will now forever have this power. (Which is still described with a backward kingdom “power under” rather than “power over” genre which is quite interesting to those trying to figure out Jesus in the early New Testament. Many things point this way such as the seven eyes to be understood as “the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” which is another symbolic way of emphasizing the sovereignty Jesus Christ who is the Lamb. Isaiah 22 and Hosea 13 are also going to tie into this conversation as they support the same view.
Without getting too sidetracked, but giving you enough to support my over all premise of the pig story, let me slightly elaborate. There is a greek “thing” going on here. When we read the “KEYS TO DEATH AND HADES” we are reading the Greek “Genitive” of two nouns piled up. In this case the genitives tou thanatou and tou hadou which can be objective or possessive. In other words you could read it as “the keys to Death and Hades” or “the keys belonging to Death and Hades.” There becomes a question of whether the term is spatial or personification? I would make an argument they both happen in the book of revelation. So, then we hermeneutically say, “Do we have these grounds one way or another?” Are death and hades ever personified these ways in the OT? Well yea, all over the place. In Hebrew the term for “death” is mot. That is the same word in Ugaritic (mot) and in Ugaritic, Mot is a deity (part of a pantheon).
I am sure this sounds like we are getting way off track (as interesting as the conversation might be) but let me get to the really important part that affects this story. Enoch and Elijah are the only people who can be found to have gone to “Heaven” or the cosmos of Yahweh and remain there. There seems to be waiting places of those that pass in the OT until Jesus returns to possibly preach or offer a last chance to them. (This has a lot of spiritual implications from universal reconciliation to theories on judgement that we don’t have time in this post to explore.) This is going to get into a Yahoel conversation and discussions on OT binitarian thinking, but for the New Testament, (specifically in Revelation), the author John (and I) will argue all of the texts at hand in this discussion are going to be wondering who holds the power over death. Who really holds the keys? My point in all of this is that the book of Revelation and connecting OT texts tell us clearly that it’s ONLY Jesus (who controls the keys of life and death). There are also several 2nd Temple texts such as the “The Apocalypse of Zephaniah” that at the least would tip us to continue to think this way. This is where we benefit by having the complete lens of the Bible at our fingertips and can apply what we have been given to the weird pig’s story in the synoptics. To be clear, it would seem that when the pig’s story was penned, before Jesus rose from the dead, he didn’t have the keys to Death and Hades, somebody else did. He went to Hades for three days, He conquered Death and Hades (personified as supernatural enemies), and He took (or somehow attained) the keys from their domain, and they are now bound. (This seems to be spiritual battle language.) When he comes back triumphantly, He holds the power of life and death forever. Something in the cosmos changed at the cross and resurrection in terms of eternal life and the complete process of sanctification.
So now let’s return to our bizarre story. When the pigs are mentioned any Jew would have understood them to be the “icon” of uncleanness (or the archetype of uncleanliness). (This ties into the don’t go there or be part of this defilement code directed towards observant Jews). The pigs were a picture (think visionary) of the worst of the world. At this point the law was a stop Gap directing people to stay away from these things of the world. To not have any part in them, and this is one of the problems of the text to be clear. The law would say don’t go there but Jesus is leading His disciples there. The stop gap of the law is met with Jesus and the trajectory is changing with every step Jesus leads us in. From the fall to the birth of Jesus humankind is on a downward spiral, at the resurrection and ascension with the falling of the spirit the trajectory will now turn upward. Things will be reclaimed and be made new again. The veil will be torn signifying the once and for all sacrifice has taken place and the law will be perfected in, by, and through Jesus.
Remember the prodigal son story, they pigs represented the farthest place from the father. Most people today still associate Jewish Kosher (right living) meals as avoiding pork as the main example of uncleanliness that nearly any person identifies regardless of their shallow knowledge of Jewish kosher foods. But the reference here is almost too generic, and that is likely intentional, I’ll come back to this. The possessed man, (and actually I am going to say there were likely many), (this could have been the “place of the damned”) were unusually strong with a subtle context tied to the world (reference to breaking chains – the world can’t even harness their own problems in him.) This is similar to a chaos monster that has gone really bad by the gods mingling -the water has become tainted by and for the world. It has the same feeling as Genesis 6. It is also interesting that tombs are mentioned. Right about now I am wondering, “why are Jesus and the disciples even here?” This sounds like hell, like Gehena. But that is actually one of the main themes I am arguing for – all of these points are also Hebraic references to sacred/temple uncleanliness spiritual domains that are often personified.
Let me be more blunt, are they on a disciple’s mission trip to convert the lost? Maybe. But here is where I start to even scratch my head more. The number of demons is counted as a legion. That is a Roman Battalion of 6000 men. There are a lot of adequate ways to count, why a legion? Alot of people would consider this war language (especially if Paul wrote it!) It is also exodus motif language of releasing the captives and likely the narrative we are reading is setting the tone for the REAL EXODUS of the foreshadowed OT red Sea victory story… The exodus of the world into eternal life by Jesus.
THIS STORY IS SETTING THE STAGE FOR THE RELEASE OF THE COSMIC CAPTIVES.
This is also where I start or continue to question the literal story. That is an immense number of pigs even by today’s western standards. There are a couple ways to go with the legion. One is that it simply represents military language of a strong army. Some viewed Rome as the enemy and it could be interpreted as enemy territory and a lot of scholars go this way, but this view is also problematic because Jesus didn’t view Rome that way. Jesus viewed Rome as the brother that would eventually be won back over in humility and love; not by an enemy takeover of the sword wielding Jesus’ revolution (as much as the very disciples with him desired that!) It wasn’t in Jesus’ character to talk about Rome as the enemy or using words entangled with destroying them. That wasn’t what Jesus did, it was opposite of what Jesus preached and lived. (It could very well be the authors influence in the texts though -that’s how they thought and what they likely wanted) How do we reconcile what is going on to the better character and mission of Jesus? It may have been a small implication of the text that Jesus’ power under “authority” even has the power to eventually reconcile Rome, but I am not convinced we can take that away (hermeneutically) merely from the text we are given. I would file that theory under possible theological implications of the text but not “given” by the text.
But there is still another problem with taking this story at face value as an actual “physical” story. It would be the ONLY singular instance in the Bible when Jesus commands a demon to leave and they don’t immediately. The demons seemingly begin to plead. This again leaves me scratching my head. Are we listening to Jesus have a court proceeding with the demons? Is this like Jesus bargaining for hostages? Jesus has limited himself by humanity but it doesn’t seem fitting that Jesus would be “bargaining with the Devil.”
As we continue, the story takes an even stranger turn. This is also when the various accounts tend to get muddy. One author represents one view, another emphasizes something else. They don’t disagree but each seem to emphasize different things that are perhaps just subtly strange. Why do the Demons want to stay in this area in Luke? Why isn’t it the appointed time of the abyss in Matthew? It also seems that Jesus is not able to do some things, were His powers stifled? Was there kryptonite in the nearby rocks? Why would the demons almost ask to go play with the pigs? There is also a rather strange, shackled sense of authority on both sides. The whole story comes off as a bizarre abstract painting at best.
Finally, we see the demons go into the pigs and jump into the sea. Interesting we started with the sea and Jesus could easily calm the seas. (I will still come back to the water – I promise!) When we read that earlier in the text we are clearly still in the physical world. In the physical world Jesus easily brings order to chaos and never has a problem casting out demons before this. These points would continue to build on the view that at some point we step from the physical realm into the spiritual visionary cosmos where things become “dim”.
Don’t pigs swim? Can’t demons swim? Can you drown a demon? I know pigs don’t fly but I am pretty sure they swim, and I sure wouldn’t think a spirit being would be killed by a swim. These actions seem to be figurative. I would argue that the story fades from a real physical story into more of a visionary perspective to show the disciples what they are being asked to partner in doing through Christ after he physically leaves them.
Also, as a side note to be clear, the text doesn’t say Jesus sent or ordered the pigs into the sea. Some want to point this to or at an action of which Jesus performed or commanded and often go as far as to identify mental illness as an uncontrolled chaos monster. I don’t see the validity for that in the text. Others are going to try to come to a spiritual doctrine of suicide out of this text and I will also concur that doesn’t work within the theology or hermeneutic of this text, especially when viewed as a vision. In this way, theologically, it is an indicator to take it more figuratively. If we leave the story as purely literal (which doesn’t really work at all) we also have war problems coming from a pacifistic Jesus to discuss, such as…
Were the pig’s casualties of a Jesus war? If pigs could be, then could you and I also be?
Wow, read that one slowly, that might be a whole other series of videos! But the simple answer is no; that is simply another reason to read/interpret the latter part of this story as a vision. Don’t read too much into what the authors thought they saw. Don’t build a doctrine on a murky interpretation of something seen or not seen. There is too much about this story that doesn’t literally make logical sense to go with a completely literal non visionary interpretation.
What’s the other options then you ask? Can we just sever it from the Canon? That would seem like the easiest thing. Just throw it away. If we don’t like something in scripture just throw it out or don’t read it. Write it off to a bad scribe or later tampering of the text. Maybe make it political. Ok, that doesn’t work even though most churches preach and interpret the Bible to say whatever they want politically, using it for their own worldly gain. Let’s stick to what the text allows exegetically. Do we just go with the old, reformed view of just trust a sovereign God; you in your humanity can’t possibly understand this one? Don’t even try. Its above your paygrade. No, I never buy into that. God gives truth. Let’s pray for the spirit to reveal the truth within the text.
Finding a better view in the lens of scripture
Like many in the church, I grew up touting the words LITERAL within scripture as a sense of strength and pride. I used to think a literal interpretation was a better or perhaps more valid interpretation. I usually go the other way now. Nothing is really literal. The word “literal” is problematic because it connotes different things to different people. The meaning of words depends on context. How someone in one culture uses a phrase or metaphor may not correspond to the way people in another time and place use that same language. If you can’t understand what the message meant to the intended audience you can’t accurately apply it to your own context. When we overlook this, we will inevitably misinterpret the Bible. This is beautifully illustrated in Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes. My friend John Walton (who would likely view this text/topic a bit differently, but I still love, honor, and respect him as one of my primary mentors in life) would also say that:
We therefore recognize that although the Bible is written for us(indeed, for everyone), it is not written to us. In this way, if we assume our worldview is equivalent to that of the Biblical writers, we will inevitably misinterpret Scripture. This article has partly served as a model to most readers to encourage better interpretation.
In the last few years, I lean toward believing that this bizarre PIG STORY is something that actually happened somewhat physically (at least at the beginning parts, the calming the seas etc…) but that much of it is part of a retold story by Jesus. In other words, the story is an actual account of Jesus and His disciples but some of it, the latter parts are told in a figurative visionary fashion. My personal take is that it was a field trip for some of the disciples into the spiritual world of the war that ensued. That is why it takes on a visionary perspective. Jesus was always taking them on workshops for the kingdom and this one was more of the spiritual realm than physical. It was teaching them that things of the kingdom were about to change forever under a new Kingdom Authority in Him.
I think the text presents a more visionary perspective to look into a different cosmic domain “figuratively” because hermeneutically it just seems to be a better interpretation of the text within the complete lens of scripture.
Taking a visionary figurative view of this story is the best interpretation based on the complete lens of Jesus and what He was accomplishing in the context of the varied stories through the cross, resurrection, ascension and giving of the Spirit.
We don’t need to settle the vagueness of visions. We never have had that need in visions, but we would if we were trying to establish a need to interpret purely physically or literally. For instance, something as simple as, if Jews detested pigs, why were there thousands of pigs in the area? There likely wouldn’t have been any kind of market for pigs this close to where the Jews lived. If they were caught in the spiritual cosmos it settles some difficulties. There seem to be plenty of animal like creatures in the spiritual domains.
But theologically some will struggle here. The problem is we don’t have the merit within the text to go indefinitely one way or the other; and typically, if that is the ticket we are looking for we want to interpret literally not figuratively. Nothing about this story starts by saying, “there once was a man,” or a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away.” I think you get my point, we don’t have a clear direction that this is figurative or when it transitions from physical to visionary, so then we usually want to lean literal. But I want to be careful to say that a better interpretation is probably a figurative approach. We don’t “have to” have those words to consider a more figurative or visionary interpretation.
There are laws of hermeneutics. Some of these laws will suggest when to interpret parts of the Bible literally or figuratively and there are a lot of parts of the Bible that we still aren’t sure on. Maybe this should be one of them. There are all kinds of different standards or textures of interpretation. Perhaps you are familiar with one or the other, I am going to give you the simplest basic 4 because it is the your likely familiar with them.
Words must be interpreted literally unless the sense implies an impossibility.
Words must be interpreted literally unless the sense implies a contradiction.
Words must be interpreted literally unless the sense implies an absurdity.
The nature of a biblical book may provide a clue, suggesting that the student is to watch for an abundance of figures of speech.
I am going to argue that we have all of these within the story.
The best interpretation is to interpret this story figuratively. It is a “better” interpretation than wanting to go literal with it. Let me explain why (as if I haven’t been already). First, we don’t typically draw doctrinal conclusions from parables or figurative stories. I am going to argue that some have allowed their doctrine to be clouded by stories that aren’t given to us to teach science, geology, physics or DOCTRINE. We have those texts but hermeneutically these shouldn’t be overly read into doctrine. That said, I don’t really avoid anything here either. I don’t think the text teaches ECT or anything else and I am not bending, messaging, or performing any theological gymnastics to make something fit my doctrine or politics. I am merely searching for the best interpretation or exegesis of the text and have nothing to lose.
At this point in the article, I feel like most readers can already understand my need to want to go visionary or figurative with the text but let me continue to build the case for a few moments in case you’re on the fence.
First, Its written with a similar feel to Jewish apocalypse language.
“Apocalyptic literature is a genre of prophetical writing that developed in post-Exilic Jewish culture that involved an unveiling or unfolding of things not previously known and which could not be known apart from the unveiling”.
Teachers including Jesus, would regularly speak and teach in ways that could be construed by different audiences without speaking plainly. The intended audience would have understood this story at least to be partially aimed against hypocrisy of the religious systems. As I have previously alluded, I don’t necessarily “put” that on Jesus as much as on the authors. Pigs are a Jewish symbol of hypocrisy.
The Midrash draws a comparison between the Roman empire and the pig: Just as the pig sticks out its hooves when it is resting, as if to say, “I am kosher,” so did the Romans put on a show of justice to mask their avarice and corruption. There is a bit of a word play or even joke going on in comparison of Romans, demons and pigs as well as the fact that many Jews and early Christians hoped that the Roman legions would do just what the pigs did and take a long walk off a short cliff. I am sure some reading the text later were hoping that Jesus may have been speaking in a prophetic picture of what would come of Rome, but we know that doesn’t happen. Matt and I in the Philadelphia Part 9 series also bring out this point in other ways. In fact, the opposite happens, the Jews are decimated by the Romans. I think there is a subtle message from Jesus (or perhaps the authors) imploring a better Jesus kingdom narrative and to be free from the systems of the world, but I also don’t want to make out the entire story to go that way. There is so much more going on. I am far more comfortable putting these thoughts on the authors rather than Jesus, but some are going to struggle with this sentence, and I can understand that partially.
Juvenal, the first century poet and satirist wrote that among the Jews, ‘‘a long- established clemency suffers pigs to attain old age.” Another satirist commented regarding Herod, who killed several of his own children, that he would “rather be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son.” Petronius referred to the Jews as worshipers of a ‘‘pig-god.” The Jews’ refusal to eat pork was twisted into evidence of a Jewish fondness for pigs.
Jesus speaks within His cosmos or spiritual world and a lot of the strange references would have had more significance to those that found them interesting. We don’t always get this part. Why Luke would have found something significant that Mark didn’t. On the other hand, we don’t need to “get everything” to “get the text” or the main message of the text particularly as a takeaway to us 2000 years later.
Secondly, this has traits of an ancient chassidic story that would have been understood to be largely idiomatic that pre-date the synoptics. 2 It is a similar story or narrative that was regularly entertained by the Jews and people would have been familiar with. As bizarre as the account sounds it was actually pretty normal for the day. We think it is weird 2000 years removed but they didn’t, they were quite used to apocalyptic writing.
Thirdly, it fits the context of Jesus’ bigger picture teaching to the disciples. It was a missional field trip teaching day to the cosmos that they were in transition between. Jesus regularly went to great lengths to teach His disciples. Jesus walked his disciples around 30 miles to Caesarea Philippi (Banias) to the pan of grotto for a similar trip to the spiritual realm (which in some part also may have been visionary.) Jesus was teaching spiritual warfare and in order to experience and understand it, a visionary trip to a different domain was likely needed. This isn’t uncommon in scripture. We regularly entertain these “visions” within the OT and NT so this understanding of the text really shouldn’t be difficult to take on. The difference is it isn’t clearly presented that way. Or is it?
I also promised I would come back to “the water.” This is another slight detour from the main message and likely disserves its own article so I am not going to cover everything here that could connect. I think I will just paint a picture. In the Bible water can be a contronym symbolizing a method to “carry” or “contain” you to or away from something, namely the Lord. It wasn’t necessarily good or bad but was feared for its power. God creates the water TOV (good) but then the world gets a hold of it. some water it couldn’t be consumed without refining (boiling) it or might bring sickness perhaps even to death, but at the same time other water may be “pure” and consumed without harm. You often didn’t know in ancient times whether the water was “good” or not. The water also housed the Leviathon and other creatures that could take life. It was often wondered whether these creatures were tied to the gods. I would encourage you to return to a Deuteronomy 32 perspective here again. I am going out on a limb here because I don’t have the space in this already long article to expound much. The leviathan is a monster that is referenced in the Bible and which has roots in the pre-biblical mythologies of ancient cultures. Described as a giant sea serpent, dragon, or other sea monster, the leviathan symbolizes chaos, fearsome power, dark forces, authoritarianism, massive challenges, addiction, and more. Ancient people wondered if the Leviathon where like any other creature, not necessarily bad or good, or whether the gods controlled them such as the simple story of the angel and Balaam’s Donkey. Some even wondered if the Leviathon where actually fallen gods. There is a bit of consideration to this point as the authors of the Old and New Testaments describe the leviathan as a massive sea monster that has serpentine and dragon-like qualities. In Job 41:26 – 30, the leviathan is described as having scales that are like armor or shields, which a javelin cannot pierce. Not only does it have sharp teeth, when it breathes, smoke comes out of its nostrils and fire comes out of its mouth. (Job 41:19 – 20, Psalm 18:8.) Furthermore, in the Book of Revelation, the leviathan is described as being red in color with seven heads and 10 horns which doesn’t necessarily match the description in the rest of the Bible but is fitting in view of the apocalyptic genre of the revelation text (Revelation 12:1-17.) From this consideration some viewed these dragon-like creatures to be “the devil himself” and is why the seas were feared. There is even an ancient allusion that if you met death at sea, you might be carried away to the middle earth (or hell) where the dragon lived and kept as a captive. This thinking goes all the way to first and second century writings and also has a place in Christ “freeing the captives” during the three-day grave cycle to which Jesus emerges victorious with the keys of life and death.
Perhaps some creatures where like the water and remained neutral, and others were fallen spiritual beings or agents of the world or evil. But the point is for this reason and others, the water represented an agent that could be evil. This is why people greatly feared it. This is why when the crowds were rushing Jesus, He get on a boat to escape them. Normal people wouldn’t follow Him into the water especially if it looked like a storm may be coming. This is why when He calmed the seas it meant He was the Lord of Lords. As Job says who can tame the Leviathan? Only God. This is also why Jesus makes a point to offer living (or good-TOV) water. Because not all water was good. It is a sign of the reclaiming of everything that the world contaminated. All things will be made good in Jesus, even the most uncertain or powerful things of the world. This is also why Jesus likely chose fisherman, they were willing to take a life chance on the water to feed their families. This was the mindset that Jesus needed for His Kingdom. Faith that conquers fear. When Jesus calms the storm, He establishes His rightful place of Lord over everything on the earth.
There is a lot going on in the text. It is quite dynamic. It is likely serving to train disciples and introduce future disciples to the realm of the spiritual that isn’t often seen. It also might give cause or merit to regaining those immersed into the total darkness of the world (but as a vision I am not sure we actually have that take away – I am open to that view though!) Jesus is starting to regain what was lost to the powers and principalities and wants to use us as agents to accomplish this. There is also, in my opinion, an angle to which we might understand what takes place at the cross, to come to an understanding of atonement and how we fit into the cosmic kingdom that we are grafted into. I also have a place for the traditional theme that goes something like, Jesus is greater than anything the world has to offer, choose Jesus and choose life.
Sometimes the message is as simple as showing the love of Jesus through a smile, other times, it may feel a lot more complicated and might even ask us to give those things we hold most dear, even to death itself. Jesus simply says trust me. Into the storm, through the waters, out of the mist, and into the holy places. What he was asking for was total devotion and and complete allegiance. He wasn’t asking for fans or followers; He was calling wholly devoted disciples. He wants to take us on a journey of sanctification, and it might get weird to the world. It might be the strangest expedition you have ever been a part of. Jesus is missionally calling us to be disciples and completely given to Him as his representatives in the devout body of Christ. The calling is wayyyyyyy out of our American comfort zone. It likely isn’t skinny jeans and smoke machines; it is much deeper into covenant culture of an “all in” kingdom. Can you take steps with Jesus that will take you on a journey you can’t begin to make sense of? Perhaps you will only get a mere vision of where you can go when you place all of yourself at the feet of Jesus and ask him to double your portion within His kingdom. Are you ready to prioritize your mission and life for Jesus? Discipleship involves total sacrifice (you are no longer yours); providing water to the thirsty, food for the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for sick, comforting the brokenhearted, being an agent of good news to the imprisoned. Can you love their enemies or do good to those who threatened them? Can you learn to completely trust the Lord with every facet of your life. Can you check your weapons at the door or beach? You are the agent to bring peace to chaos and calm the storms by the power of Jesus. Jesus invites you into the storm. Will you follow as a fervent disciple to be a living sacrifice?
JESUS IS CALLING YOU | INTO THE STORM
Bereishit Rabbah 65:1. Roman legion (X Fretensis) used the boar as one of its ensigns. Additionally, one of the prominent Roman families was that of the Porcii (“pigs”), whose male and female members bore the respective names of Porcius and Porcia.
This idea appears in various Talmudic commentaries. See Likkutei Sichot 29:128, where several versions of this adage are cited.
“Until American churches actually function as outposts of Jesus’ heavenly empire rather than as cheerleaders for America—until the churches produce martyrs rather than patriots—the political witness of Christians will continue to be diluted and co-opted” – Peter Leithart
I think we can all agree that biblically we represent King Jesus as the royal priesthood of ambassadors of light to a dark world to which we shouldn’t share allegiance. Our obedience is solely to Christ’s kingdom. In this way, the church acts as a sort of embassy for the government of the King. It is an outpost of the kingdom of God surrounded by the rival kingdom(s) of darkness. And just as the embassy of a nation is meant, at least in part, to showcase the life of that nation to the surrounding people, so the church is meant to manifest the life of the kingdom of God to the world around it. Our first and primary identity should be with the King of the universe, not with any worldly country or nationality or political party. But there is a lot to consider, our covenant with Jesus also impacts our kingdom covenants with others. Where do we draw the lines and how dynamic is this kingdom boundary within the context of Jesus’ prominent message of love, grace, and mercy admonishing us to have towards this lost and fallen world?
Few will argue that there is a place by which Christians should be thankful and perhaps even “indebted” to American freedom because of our covenant in Jesus. If there was a cost for freedom and it meant that we could freely worship Jesus, most Christians would be interested in the price.
We are in transition from beings of the world to becoming beings of the Heavenly father and His kingdom. Unfortunately, this journey of sanctification is going to be a long process (that likely involves time after this life on earth as we know it) and until we get to the culmination of this heavenly transition, we are torn between the two worlds and kingdoms continually representing aspects of both worlds within our beings. In many ways Christians are caught in the middle; we are torn not fully belonging to either realm. We are leaving the world but are also not fully transitioned into spiritual beings until the eschatological recreation of the new heaven and earth is complete and we become fully re-created spiritual beings of the complete kingdom.
This transitional problem is real for every Christian despite some of us being in different stages within the kingdom realm of sanctification, especially when you consider that only God can purely interpret our hearts. Some who know me locally (and know I own an NRA gun range) take me for an ardent patriot who would be ready to bust into a fighting revolution for freedom at a moment’s notice. However, many that read my Theology posts would get quite another picture and perhaps even take me for a pacifist to which I would rather turn the cheek in humility and step aside to simply trust God to whatever end may come (justice or not). If you know me well, you know I represent a little bit of both worlds. I believe there are seasons, and we need to be ready to go where God leads, but make no mistake, wherever you fall as a Christian on this issue your complete devotion and obedience is to be solely to Him and none other. I and many others along this journey attain to live by the Ideals of the Lord but are continually falling short.
Matt Mouzakis, the co-host of the Expedition 44 YouTube Channel whom we all know well and love deeply would take the position that we should solely belong to the kingdom of Jesus; other kingdoms are Rival to that authority and can’t or shouldn’t co-exist. Are you Roman, American, or Christian? This is hard to argue in terms of an eschatological finish. At the end of the day in a new Heaven and earth we are simply going to be Christians, there isn’t a place or room for anything else. In this way of thinking shouldn’t your target here on earth be the same?
In consideration of this view, early Christians were willing to be martyred rather than pledge allegiance to Rome or have any part in such a corrupt anti-Godly system of government. As Americans, our faith has become so nationalized that we in many ways represent America far more than Jesus. Patriotism has become our/their religion. This is an idolatrous problem. Most American Christians are indistinguishable from the lives of their pagan American neighbors. I would agree with Matt and also contend, that America’s values and government is overtly pagan and as Christians we can’t ignore this or continue to be part of the anti-God aspects of it. American Christian Nationalism often represents the near opposite of what Jesus taught. It is contrary or rival to His kingdom.
In the first century, baptism itself was a right of resistance (non-violently) in the early church. In its original meaning in the New Testament, it meant abandoning your loyalties to all other nations and pledging your allegiance to the kingdom of God. In Thessalonica in Acts 17:6 Paul and Silas get accused of “Turning the world upside down” by saying there is another king, Jesus. This had nothing to do with the style of government they were under (Totalitarian, democratic, republic, etc.), it had everything to do with being part of another kingdom and having another king. The early church, disciples of the disciples, echo this concept:
· We have no country on earth- Clement of Alexandria
· I serve Jesus Christ the eternal king. I will no longer serve your emperors… it is not right for Christians to serve in the armies of this world- Marcellus the centurion
· We (Christians) have no pressing inducement to take part in your public meetings; not is there anything more foreign to us than affairs of the state- Tertullian
· Shall we carry a flag? It is rival to Christ- Tertullian
· How can a man be just who hates, who despoils, who puts to death? And those who strive to be serviceable to their country do all these things – Lactantius
This was the mindset of the early church until the mingling of church and state under Constantine. I believe we need to get back to an “exile” mindset. Matt will concur, that this doesn’t mean that we violently usurp the government, we follow the laws where we are exiled as long as it doesn’t compromise kingdom values. In 1 Tim 2:1-2 we are called to pray for rulers. The purpose of this is not to transform the government but rather that the church “may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
Perhaps, the purpose of our prayers for the government is for them to stay out of our business so we can be about the kingdom and have less of their influence in our lives. As Jeremiah said to the exiles in Babylon to pray for it and seek the prosperity of the city because in its prospering you will prosper (Jer 29:7), but God never told his exiles to work in Babylon, simply pray and live a kingdom life where they were. The church needs to stop outsourcing its call to love their neighbor, to care for the hurting and the outcast to the government. The church is a colony (Outpost) of heaven that should promote only its kingdom and king.
Nugget sums this concept up perfectly,
“Our responsibility is not to make the world a better place, but to be the better place God has begun in this world through Christ. We are his kingdom work. We are ambassadors who proclaim what God has done, is doing, and will do. God’s strategy is for his people not to fix this world but to plant a new world in the midst of the old one and to woo the old world to Himself through it. As followers of Jesus, the body of Christ, the new humanity and new creation is us. A new creation as begun in the midst of the old world that remains. It is the new world of God’s Kingdom and its people. So God’s people are not responsible for making the world a better place, but for being the better place that Christ has already made… the early believers were vocal in proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and visible in living it out in community… the church’s calling centers on being the better place God began in Jesus.”- John Nugget (Endangered Gospel)
But there is another side to this argument within those that live wholly devoted to Jesus we may consider. On the one hand we are called as Christians to be singly allegiant to one king and one kingdom. On the other hand, some will argue that America was founded largely by God fearing men to fulfil just the sort of pro-liberty, non-interventionist role the Bible envisions. What they sought was simply freedom. This is why the founding fathers intended to produce a federal Constitution, which elaborately checked sinful men’s insatiable lust for power.
Keeping this in check; unfortunately, these desires of our founding fathers seem very lost compared to the current American dilemma of corruption in Politics and a nearly God-less America. Is the nation completely lost or can some semblance of faith in God exist again within the leadership of this country?
And let’s pause for a moment to make another clear point before we continue. To be clear America was started as a free country not a Christian country. To be frank, there shouldn’t be any thoughts of “returning to God.” Our country was never “with” God in that matter. But the founding fathers (many of whom were God fearing men) created a framework where God could be freely worshipped.
Isn’t this the very reason why our founding fathers drafted a Bill of Rights, which jealously guarded religious liberty. Essentially most of the founding fathers just wanted a government that would leave the church alone. They weren’t building a Christian nation; they were simply enabling a nation where Christianity could be built. In my mind this is noble but not purely “Christian.” It still poses a problem for me as my Ideal is completely Jesus not the world. I don’t desire the ideals of anything in the world as I long to be completely within the kingdom of God.
But still perhaps this “complete Jesus thinking” is impossible within the current spiritual condition of the world. Some will ardently argue that what America has within its political system happens to be the sort of civil government the Bible demands we pray for in 1 Timothy.
Many Christians feel that our role as ambassadors is to eventually be agents that partner with God (Edenic keep and cultivate language) to reclaim what has been lost to the world and the powers and principalities of darkness. We know we will eventually be used as God’s agents to do this but what does that mean? Are we there yet? Where do we draw the lines of allegiance until then? Can we be dual citizens or is that serving two masters? Is that being indebted to something that isn’t part of the servanthood to the Lord?
My good friend Steve Cassell (The pastor who fought and saved religious freedom in Illinois at the beginning of government church shutdowns in covid) would say, “Christian patriotism in the United States is needful and necessary because it is congruent with our Lord‘s command to love our neighbor, and has been established in a system of government that cultivates and represents the exact type of civil human government, committed to liberty, that the whole of scriptures would require.”
He and many other Christian Americans would say that we are patriots not because we have a love affair with the United States as such; we are patriots because the principles on which the nation were founded allow Christianity to flourish.
I do also see some ability to have a relationship that is completely first and foremost given to the Lord but also have secondary relationships within that spiritual covenant. I have always found it interesting in this way that Paul chose to keep some of his benefits as a citizen within Rome according to Acts 22.
I may be able to understand how my friend Steve views patriotism and Christian allegiance as not having to be the antithesis of each other. Perhaps they could both be done in a new covenant way; to the same regard as your covenant commitment to your wife should be and can be fully submitted within the covenant commitment with Jesus as the Bride of the church. There is undeniably the (limited) ability to maintain relationships based on covenant that are not in opposition to each other but submitted and prioritized to each other. For instance, you may be a martyr for your wife or the church because of your commitment to Jesus. Your wife can submit to you as her husband and God both within the same covenant and appear to be within God’s graces and not meet the spiritual definition of serving two masters. Could you die (or live) for your country because of the same commitment?
As much as I love, honor, and respect my brother immensely and agree with a lot of the comparisons made above; personally, I still tend to go slightly the other way because of desire of attaining to get closer to the eschatological finish line sooner than later, and largely while on this earth.
We live in a country where we aren’t regularly tormented or persecuted for Jesus, let alone the consideration of being martyrs for Him. We don’t physically have to decide every day to day for Him. Or do we or should we? Will we ever need to, or would God ask us to physically fight for that end? Matt and Steve would likely end up in different places if we took this conversation that far.
But perhaps the other differences of thinking are merely semantics. Something also tells me that my friend Steve (or Matt) would also likely agree with most if not all of my points mentioned. All three of us often seem to say similar things but then move towards slightly different directions of actions or conclusive ideals. Steve wants to fix the broken system and reclaim it (and everything else lost to the world) for Jesus and Matt wants to just end up with purely Jesus as soon as He can get there, leaving little if any room for the world. Both thoughts have biblical and spirituals foundations. When is the season to sever and when is the season to reclaim in the name of Jesus? When do you fight and when do you turn the other cheek? When do you stand and when do you step aside. When are you THE agent of Jesus and when do you get out of the way to make room for Jesus? These are the conundrums of the kingdom.
Where my friend Steve and I often land together is in agreeing that patriotism (or anything else) can take the place of Christ in a person’s life. Can Chocolate take the place in a person’s heart where Christ should solely belong? It might be a silly analogy, but the answer is yes. But most people would not spend a lot of time arguing against the antichrist principles of chocolate, even though gluttony is covered pretty blatantly in scripture. (But we would rather discuss politics than gluttony.)
Lastly, there is also a static/dynamic interpretation of scripture within modern times to be considered. One of the first textures of interpretation is to understand what the message meant to its intended audience before we can apply it to our situations. Once you understand what the message meant to the original audience and the context to which it was delivered, you can attempt to apply it in a similar way to your situation. However, it will likely never be an exact application or example of yours, yet still as Christians we are called to apply scripture to our lives. In this way, America may be different than Rome within the context of the application. For instance, you might argue that there has never been in history, nor was there in the days of the biblical writings, any system of government that was even close to what we have in America today. Or perhaps it might not matter… allegiance is allegiance.
Do you stand and fight to change the system or turn the other cheek and humbly and solely follow Jesus? How dynamic is the kingdom of Christ and calling of all in discipleship within the context of multiple relationships within a supreme covenant kingdom?
Perhaps some are called one way and others another with in the dynamic kingdom of Jesus. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do press others to inteligently and strategically consider where, why, and how they should represent their God and the systems of the world. Wherever you stand, we can agree that we are each called to represent Jesus, to be an outpost of light in a dark world.
-written in partnership by Dr. Will Ryan Th.D, Matt Mouzakis, and Dr. Steve Cassell D. Min